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Q: What is a Wagon?

December 17, 2013 12:53 PM

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The station wagon was once the quintessential family car in the U.S., allowing parents to haul kids and run errands long before the SUV came onto the automobile market. The term "station wagon" was given to this type of car in the 1920s, when it was often used as a taxi. Today, wagons are often considered to be purposefully indistinguishable from the minivans and crossover SUVs on the roads, but the wagon does retain some of its unique advantages.

Wagons are designed to drive like sedans in spite of hauling a lot of cargo in the back. A wagon is therefore a family car that can handle a whole family's weekly or monthly shopping without making the interior of the car cramped. To ensure that the car body can manage this, wagons' creators have to make a few modifications to traditional car design. Typically, wagons are based on a sedan chassis, and to make a wagon, the roof of the traditional sedan is elongated through the back of the car body. The roofline only slopes down at the very back of the car body, to create a hatch where the trunk once was. A door in the back opens and shuts to allow long items or rear loading.

In spite of the extended roofline and rear door, a wagon is still a lot like a sedan. Wagons generally ride smoothly in the same way as their sedan counterparts. It is low to the ground, with the same tires and drivetrain as a sedan. To accommodate a full family and whatever it needs to haul, wagons may also include a third row of seats. These seats usually fold down if extra storage is needed.

The similarities between the wagon and sedan are the same traits that distinguish the wagon from truck-based SUVs and modern crossover SUVs. A wagon tends to be shorter and smaller than these vehicles, and has no off-roading capabilities. The wagon is designed to handle daily errands and family travel. It can, however, have more storage than some of the smaller crossover SUVs.

The wagon is a great family car because it is designed to haul both cargo and people in comfort. Wagons are still used today by many families, because they use less fuel than the larger SUVs, and the storage is often comparable. The current trend toward smaller, more energy efficient vehicles has made wagons an even more viable segment of the market. The design was once the long, clumsy sibling of the sedan that only families would go for. Now, many wagons tend to resemble the modern crossover SUV so much that it can be hard to tell the difference from the outside. This makes their appeal stretch beyond the traditional family consumer.

When considering a family vehicle or something with more cargo space, give the station wagon special attention. Modern incarnations are stylish, made by luxury carmakers, and have all of the efficiency that you need for day-to-day driving. The wagon is definitely more than an old tourist taxi or suburban mommy-mover.

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